• synonyms


[mawth-bawl, moth-]
See more synonyms for mothball on Thesaurus.com
  1. a small ball of naphthalene or sometimes of camphor for placing in closets or other storage areas to repel moths from clothing, blankets, etc.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to put into storage or reserve; inactivate.
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  1. inactive; unused; stored away: a mothball fleet.
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  1. in mothballs,
    1. in disuse or in storage, especially with reference to standby equipment.
    2. (of ideas) dismissed as unworthy of further deliberation.
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Origin of mothball

First recorded in 1905–10; moth + ball1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words


Examples from the Web for mothballs

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • He smelled faintly of mothballs and looked very respectable.

    Sugar Plum

    Reginald Bretnor

  • No more, no more will robins nest within their lilac shade, for they are folded now and pressed, and with the mothballs laid.

  • The house was over-warm, and there was a musty smell of over-aged furniture, old leather, and the pungence of mothballs.

    The Fourth R

    George Oliver Smith

British Dictionary definitions for mothballs


  1. Also called: camphor ball a small ball of camphor or naphthalene used to repel clothes moths in stored clothing, blankets, etc
  2. put in mothballs to postpone work on (a project, activity, etc)
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verb (tr)
  1. to prepare (a ship, aircraft, etc) for a long period of storage by sealing all openings with plastic to prevent corrosion
  2. to take (a factory, plant, etc) out of operation but maintain it so that it can be used in the future
  3. to postpone work on (a project, activity, etc)
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for mothballs



also moth-ball, moth ball, "naphthalene ball stored among fabrics to keep off moths," 1891, from moth + ball (n.1).

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1902 in a literal sense (to store away with mothballs), from mothball (n.); figurative sense from 1901.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with mothballs


see put in mothballs.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.